Find Your Way Around the Skies

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  • 8/12/2019 Find Your Way Around the Skies


    Find your way around the skiesAa-

    Anton Vamplew

    Image Credit:Jon Hicks

    To some people these days, the idea of star-hopping seems rather quaint. The idea that you slowly work your way aroundthe sky using only your eyes to identify star after star, steadily building up the patterns of the constellations, surely belongs toa bygone age.

    After all, today we hae !o-To telescopes that can take you to any star or fu""y nebula instantly. There you go # noknowledge of the sky necessary. !o-To telescopes certainly hae their place.

  • 8/12/2019 Find Your Way Around the Skies


    $or e%ample, if you want to show the wonders of the night sky to a group of friends, it&s 'ust a case of pressing some buttonsand hey presto( deep-sky ob'ect after deep-sky ob'ect appears as if by magic. )ertainly, with their computer databases ofwhere each gala%y and nebula is located, !o-To telescopes are great for finding some of the more challenging, faint, fu""yblobs.

    Howeer, there is something ery rewarding in haing a mental map of the stars, so that youcan glance up with confidence and point out *eo, !emini or +rsa a'or to whoeer is within earshot. And that&s before you&epointed out the planets, which are sure to increase anyone&s fascination in the night sky.

    t&s true to say that few people know their way around the night sky well enough. The only way of being able to gain thisuseful and entertaining knowledge is to learn the sky # and it is by star-hopping that you learn.

    A Universe to discovertar-hopping really is fascinating. /ot only are you recognising the patterns of constellations, you&re also learning about stardistances, star colours, ages and names.

    0ou&ll find that the whole of the night sky is an ama"ing mi%ture of space, time, history, science and world cultures. t&ll leadyou off on all sorts of paths and you&ll learn things that will ama"e others. /ot to mention the basic reason # you&ll know whatyou&re looking at.

    /ow, you don&t need any optical instruments to begin star-hopping, but it does help to hae a few things handy to make youreenings more en'oyable.

    $irstly, let&s deal with the comfort aspect. 1en in the summer, it will probably get chilly # at the ery least # so wrap up warm.Then, to get as comfortable as possible, set up a deck chair or sun-lounger # maybe we should call it a star-lounger in this


    Just before you pop outside to try some real star-hopping, there are a couple of final useful things to hae with you( a starchart or atlas, plus a red torch to see the charts, and also where you&re going, without ruining your night ision. And don&tforget a flask of tea and a few biscuits for when you fancy a break.

    f you&re new to star-hopping, position your star-lounger north-south and sit with your feet pointing north. This will put you inan ideal position to see seeral key star-hopping points( the 2lough, the /orth tar and the constellation of )assiopeia asthey&re all around the north part of the sky.

    3hy not practise star-hopping using the e%ample shown below4 5emember, take it easy, and you&ll be finding your wayaround the sky in no time.

    Star-hop from the Plough to Cassiopeia

    1 Find the PloughThe 2lough is a shape or 6asterism& found in the constellation of +rsa a'or, the !reat 7ear. t&s a good place to startbecause it&s a recognisable shape. t&s also close to the north pole of the sky, meaning it&s always isible in the night sky.

  • 8/12/2019 Find Your Way Around the Skies


    2 Move from the Plough to the Pole StarThe two right-hand stars of the 2lough are known as the 2ointers. 1%tend an imaginary line between them and out of the2lough and they&ll point to the 2ole tar, which is also called 2olaris.

    !race the shape of Ursa MinorThe 2ole tar is the main star of the constellation +rsa inor, the *ittle 7ear. This is shaped like a smaller, fainter ersion ofthe 2lough and you can trace its form arching off from 2olaris. 3ell done, you&e found a new constellation.

    " Move on to Cassiopeia)ontinue on in the same direction you took from the 2lough to 2olaris, for around the same distance again. 0ou&ll find thedistinctie 63& of stars that make up the constellation of )assiopeia. That&s it, a successful star-hopping session.

    #opping $ith %inoculars7inoculars proide another way to star-hop. The trouble is, when you look through them it&s easy to lose your bearings

    because you&re only looking at a small piece of sky. A good trick is to work out how much of the sky your binoculars showyou 8their field of iew9.

    To do this, take a look at the 2lough, noting which stars are at the ery edge of your binoculars& field of iew. /ow find thesestars on a starchart and make a ring out of wire and place it around them.

    This ring is the field of iew of your binoculars at the right scale to use on your starchart.0ou can then moe your wire ring around the chart to plan each step of your star-hop and know in adance what the iewshould look like.

    Try aiming for the :ouble )luster in 2erseus # it&s a great target through binoculars and it&s ery close to )assiopeia.